Young Guns: Marko Dano
The 'Dark Horse' of the Blue Jackets' three 2013 first round picks, Marko Dano brings a strong work ethic and a surprising amount of grit to training camp as he attempts to crack the roster.
After the Blue Jackets chose Alexander Wennberg and Kerby Rychel with their first two picks in 2013, they had some flexibility with their third and final pick in the first round. While many expected the team to look at a defensive prospect, GM Jarmo Kekalainen surprised fans and pundits alike by calling the name of Marko Dano.
A big bodied Slovakian player, Dano spent most of the 2012-2013 season playing for HC Slovan Bratislava of the KHL, and finished the 2013-2014 season on their lineup before coming over to Springfield to help with the Falcons' push to the playoffs.
Position: Centre / Wing
Height: 6' 0"
Weight: 198 lbs.
Born: Eisenstadt, Austria
Every scouting report on Dano has mentioned his physicality, his improved skating, and the way he's been building up his body to withstand the rigors of the pro game. Regarded as being a strong "two way" player with good defensive abilities, the next step would likely be to bring his scoring game back up.
With the fierce competition in camp, it seems unlikely that he'll crack the lineup, but if he can bring up his defensive game to outwork a player like Brian Gibbons or Jerry D'Amigo for a fourth line spot, it would be an excellent opportunity for him to grow, and the smaller ice of the NHL should allow his more physical game to flourish.
Realistically, he's most likely going to be honing his craft with Springfield, continuing to play against older and more experienced competition, and likely getting an opportunity to show the club how he can fit into the NHL roster when injuries or illness open an opportunity for him.
Dano's development "curve" is a little different than his 2013 classmates - he's not a pure playmaker like Wennberg, or a gifted scorer like Rychel. His game is more like a Mark Letestu or even the recently departed Blake Comeau - someone who will work to shut down his opposition and deliver a punishing hit when the opportunity comes, with a timely goal now and then as a nice bonus. That means it's not quite as easy to measure when he'll be "ready", but it also means that he may not have the same level of pressure as a player expected to put up 20+ goals. It'll be interesting to see how that shapes the next year from him, and if perhaps the different expectations will help him to surprise fans and team alike in camp.